Category Archives: change

Resilience and the Expanding Kingdom

It has been a slam-bang beginning. This early, we have seen the ravages of wounded nature fighting back. Bushfires raging without letup in the wild outback of Australia. Taal volcano erupting, spewing a black plume of cloud-like ash falling on miles and miles of towns and cities. The novel corona virus killing hundreds in Wuhan and spreading silently and quickly its deadly menace across the globe. 
All these, plus the never-ending wrongs inflicted by corrupt governments in rogue states and the dying of democracy in this country (Philippines) — the oldest republic in Asia — and elsewhere.

In times like this it is easy to bury our heads in the sand and make what some call ‘a separate peace.’ In the face of despotic governance, many take to the high seas like our sea-faring ancestors who fled from the rule of the fabled Madjapahit empire. We do not revolt; we just migrate to other climes.

Church people see in all these signs of the ‘end times.’ Some see no reason for re-arranging social reality; it is a dying world, it is said, let us just evangelise and save as many as we can from this sinking ship.

This line of thinking misunderstands the nature of our good news. The gospel is not just about securing a ticket to heaven. It is about making this earth a bit more like heaven.

When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples, he told them to bring this message to the lost sheep of Israel: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ The longed-for restoration of the Davidic kingdom, the best in their memory of what a good government is like, has come in the person of the Messiah Jesus.

The good news is that a new social order is coming into being, this time backed up by supernatural signs and wonders: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” (Matthew 10.7-8) With the coming of Jesus, the powers of heaven have descended. A new reign of justice and righteousness has begun.  

This new order inaugurated by Jesus is here now, though in many ways hidden. It becomes visible when the people of God behave like true people of the Kingdom – fighting injustice, treating with kindness and compassion those in the margins, and walking with God in such a way that we ourselves are transformed. (Micah 6.8)

At the end of the day, the story that God is weaving through the travails of our time is our own re-making as a grand ‘poem’ – a ‘workmanship,’ created and crafted by the Lord Jesus for the good work he has prepared for us beforehand. (Ephesians 2.10)

This ‘good work’ is not just the bits and pieces we do as good disciples in our lives and professions, but no less than the making of “a new heaven and a new earth.” We have been saved, not just to sit around and wait for the rapture or some such thing, but to storm the gates of hell in this sad earth. The church is not just a hospital for the walking wounded, but an army, tasked with reclaiming, inch-by-inch, territory already won by Jesus on the cross. We are to be at the center of the fray, battling against principalities and powers that are entrenched in our systems and institutions. For this reason we need to be spiritually resilient, strengthened by the Spirit and wielding the Word as a mighty sword that pierces through all sorts of fake news.

The end of this story, we are told, is that we shall be like a spotless Bride coming down from heaven, inhabiting a new Jerusalem set in a new earth that we shall inherit.  (Rev.21.1-7)

The Bible tells us that we are not really going anywhere, but here. In Jesus, heaven has come down, and the kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdom of our God. (Rev.11.15)

Melba Padilla Maggay
President, Micah Global 

Protest and Lament

by Sheryl Haw

It was a hot Sunday afternoon in Somalia, good for siesta after a busy week of work at the clinic. We had some sick children in our care, but all seemed on the mend. A tap on my door by one of the Somali nurses led me back to hospital. He had asked me to check on a 2-year-old patient who we were planning to discharge. To my horror on arrival I found the child had died. The mother was weeping, everyone was shocked at this unexpected loss. I was angry – confused and then determined. I took myself into another room and started to wrestle with God. I protested, lamented, grieved, ranted, debated and then decided this simply could not be God’s plan. Decision taken, I sought the rest of the team and explained that I felt we should pray for the child to be raised from the dead! The team looked on, wide eyed! They agreed to stand with me.

We set the scene as best we could “according to the Bible”! Placed everyone out of the room bar the mother and the translator. We explained we wanted to pray for the child and asked if they would give permission. They agreed. Before I could start, one of the team began a prayer which went like this “God, we would like you to restore this child, but if it is not your will please keep her safe with you”. This prayer frustrated me – why give God an out clause!? So, I jumped in and prayed “In the Name of Jesus rise up”. I had my eyes open as I did not want to miss the first breath. I repeated – but no breath came.

We all started to weep, not just for the child and the family’s loss, but now we also wept for ourselves and our faith in God. What followed were some of the most profound conversations we ever had as a team. One member shouted at me as he challenged me as to why I would test God. He then broke down and wept because his brother had died of leukemia and he had also prayed for healing and none had come. Some exploded in anger at the injustice and evil death represented. Others questioned whether we had sufficient faith, others lamented the helplessness we all felt.

Then we had a knock on the door – the translator came to see us. He was deeply moved that we had cared so much as foreigners for this little Somali girl. He was amazed that we had demonstrated love to her family through prayer and comfort and tears of solidarity. We sat in stunned silence. Is that what they had seen?

Of course, we could argue the theology and practice around our approach to deciding to pray – yes, we had a lot to learn. But what I had not anticipated was the witness we gave of love, through lament and protest, through solidarity of grief and the presence we gave to stand in the gap for this child and family.

I have seen God heal miraculously. I have held people as they died. I have not understood why some are healed and some are not. Why some die and some live? The Bible is full of protests, lament, anger, grief and questions. The struggle with God over this is based on the tension of knowing that God is a good, compassionate, just God and a giver of life. The Cross was His demonstrate of his desire to see redemption, healing, restoration, liberation and reconciliation for all. Therefore, we protest when we see pain, suffering, injustice and death.

The Cross is also our hope. It is at the Cross we see the ultimate assurance of God’s love. It is the Cross that carries the pain, the lament, the protest, for it exposes the worst of evil and reveals the breadth of grace, mercy and love. Knowing full well every terrible thing, every painful reality, every agonising thing we face or go through, Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. He would remove the sting of death, wipe away every tear and set things right. It is done!

And so until he returns, we protest – “How long O Lord” – we lament and grieve – “Lord, the pain is great“.

God receives our cries, he weeps with us, he carries our pain and he reveals his plan. Behold God will make all things new: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4).

New Wine – New Wineskins: Luke 5:36-39

By Sheryl Haw

Every generation needs to routinely take time to research, enquire and envision on how the Gospel is impacting the church and the world today.

Looking back through recent history we owe a great deal to those who inspired such spaces for reflection and obediently initiated the change that was needed. Responding to a perceived deficit or gap often requires an intentional focus on the missing need, at times to the expense of or the forfeiting of other important aspects. Hence the constant need to humbly walk together before God seeking his direction and focus remains the anchor we need to adhere to.

We are grateful for those who initiated “rethinking” processes. Rethinking mission, rethinking church, rethinking discipleship, rethinking …… We recognise the importance of movements that have stimulated the process of change and transformation, both within global and national contexts. We earnestly encourage the ongoing reflections and courage for change that will always be needed until Christ returns.

And what of today? What disquiet and unease is God’s Spirit prompting us to address? What structures and traditions, and ways of doing things do we need to lay down in order for the new to be released?

In a world so hungry for:

  • individual success, at the expense of family, community, morality, humanity and environment well being
  • love, of anything or anyone that addictively and temporarily fills this need
  • status and position, a constant need to be affirmed, praised, sort after, wanted, admired, envied.
  • charismatic, larger than life leaders who will sell a lie so convincingly that even the church signs up for it.

What is our response?

For me the teaching and practice of integral mission has and continues to be a catalyst that prompts us to continually seek God and his transforming Spirit to help us discern what next steps we need to take.

I am convinced that the Gospel is the power to transform all things in heaven and earth in Christ.

  • To end wars and to reconcile people – only the Gospel has the power to heal the pain, restore all the years the locusts have eaten, and to bring those who were once enemies together as family
  • To redeem and restore the devastating impact of climate change – heal the land, turn back the droughts and enable the land, flora and fauna, to flourish
  • To fill the hungry with good food
  • To bring justice and mercy to all, especially those who have been oppressed and exploited and abused
  • To bring hope and joy to life, especially to those who have robbed of this
  • To bring community and fellowship to those who have been isolated, marginalised and alone
  • To bring healing and wholeness to all those who our broken hearted and diseased
  • To bring life is all its fullness – Shalom
  • To know our God personally and corporately and to walk with Him in the cool of the day

The unease I believe the Spirit of God is prompting us to act on is our unbelief in the Gospel. We have either:

  • Preferred to imagine an escape plan from all the troubles in the world
    • Immediate: churches becoming “safe” zones from the world
    • Future: Jesus’ return will take us all elsewhere for a new start
    • Spiritualised: the signs of the world end has to come before Christ returns…
  • Preferred to imagine we can make things good by doing good alone
    • Immediate: aid delivery gives a temporary reprieve and has a feel-good factor
    • Future: Jesus’ return will complete what we have started,
    • Spiritualised: Mobilise all to do good so that when Christ returns, we will be rewarded
  • Prefer not to imagine and comfortable to just live for today and do enough to ease our guilt.

No matter how much we teach and act with an integral mission perspective, unless we believe that the Gospel is the power to change lives and situations we will remain in the tension of the above.

The compulsion to proclaim the Gospel that we read about in the Bible comes from the experienced belief in its power to liberate, redeem, restore and reconcile.

The compulsion to do good works we read about in the Bible comes from experiencing the Good News and loving as Christ loves us.

I believe we need to ask God to fan into flame our first love, be prepared to face opposition, commit to lives of integrity and holiness, to stand against injustice in all its forms, to stop all forms of spiritual hypocrisy – be authentic and obedient to Christ, to take time to strengthen ourselves in God’s Word, and to repent and act today in keeping with all that God has called us to as the Body of Christ.

I believe this needs to happen to every believer, every church, every organisation and college. We need to fall in love again. Then, God will show us the new wineskins he has prepared for us for today.

Change has come …

by Dr Melba Padilla Maggay, President Micah Global

Those were brutal times. Small countries like Israel writhed under the iron boot of imperial Rome. Greco-Roman culture, billed as the apex of civilization in the ancient world, sanctioned a structure where a thin layer of citizens were borne on the backs of slaves, viewed merely as “living tools” by one of their best thinkers, Aristotle. Unwanted female babies were exposed to the elements in the forest or thrown in garbage heaps, and the main spectator sport was watching gladiators battle each other to their gory death.

Israel itself suffered a leanness of spirit: For four centuries God was silent. No prophet broke into the scene to bring clarity or a word of hope to a nation living in ambiguous times. The religious leaders were either narrow legalists like the Pharisees who thought that punctilious observance of the law would bring about the prophesied messianic age, or liberal interpreters like the Sadducees who pandered to popular will and sought power by collaborating with the Roman colonizer. The Davidic dynasty had long decayed, and in its place was a usurping Idumean named Herod who murdered his way to the throne and curried favour with Rome and the Jewish people by impressive engineering feats, building cities named after the Caesars and reconstructing the temple.

Into this context God the Father sent his son. He came as a helpless baby parented by a woman barely in her teens and a carpenter so bewildered by the circumstances of his birth that he had to be assured by an angel that it was the Holy Spirit’s doing.

There were no signs of the birth of a king except for an angel announcing the joyful news to shepherds keeping watch over their flock, and a star that appeared to astrologers from the East. Like all deep things of God’s doing, the advent of the Christ Child was hidden except to those who were the simplest and wisest.

There were no courtiers, no heralds but for a brief moment when the sky opened and the heavenly host sang of the glory and peace that was to come through this new-born king.

But the portentous significance of the event was not lost on Herod. Obsessively paranoid, he went on a rampage, ordering the killing of all children two years and under in Bethlehem. The coming of the true king was not without great bloodshed; the powers knew that their days were numbered.

Today we hear again the sound of “wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children…” The Herods of this world continue to rise and rule with an iron fist. That the Messiah has come seems like a distant memory whose meaning is lost in the mist of history.

But then social historians tell us that if, in our time, slavery is abhorred and has ceased to be seen as an economic necessity, women are given equal rights to social space, and racial discrimination is at least viewed as detestable if not totally eliminated, these are gains largely accounted for by the rise of Christianity in the western world. The Pauline vision that “in Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free” set forth a new social ethic that marked those small communities of believers known as “followers of The Way.”

The social impact was immediate. Even when Christians were yet a small and powerless minority movement (estimated at 200,000 in a total population of 30 million in the first century), funds of the fledgling churches were used to buy the freedom of slaves. Believers cared for the children of prostitutes, gladiators, and infants abandoned on the rubbish heaps in the Roman Empire.

More recently, we think of William Wilberforce and his colleagues in Parliament working for the abolition of the slave trade, or Martin Luther King dreaming of a just world beyond Alabama’s cotton fields. Jesus says his people are like walking lamps. And a lamp is put on a stand, so that it gives light to all in the house. Imagine a one-room peasant house in Palestine all lighted up because of a single lamp!

What can happen when a determined minority grows into a critical mass that overturns a corrupt social order? The sociologist Robert Bellah speaks of a small minority of Christians in Japan who proved to be game-changers in politics and had an impact beyond their numbers: “We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a vision of a just and gentle world… The quality of a culture may be changed when two percent of its people have a new vision.”

Article first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 23rd December 2016